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14 Sep 2022

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Why IBM's AI-Powered Mayflower Ship Is Crossing the Atlantic

The Mayflower's journey has garnered significant attention, as it's the first time an AI-powered ship has set sail across the Atlantic.

The ship's AI system, IBM Watson Explorer, gives it capabilities similar to that of an organic brain, such as the ability to discern individual voices amid the noise of thousands of passengers and crew members and quickly respond to changing conditions aboard the ship without any human intervention.

The launch of the vessel, initially scheduled for June 2021, was suspended when it encountered several technical glitches and had to return to Plymouth. An issue with the generator forced the Mayflower to divert to the Azores Islands in Portugal in April 2022.

The Mayflower's repair began in late May when the charging circuit for the generator's starter batteries developed a problem. As a result of this technical breakdown, a course for Halifax, Nova Scotia, was charted.

The modern Mayflower has now docked in Halifax after more than five weeks since it left Plymouth. Though it hasn't yet reached its final destination, the ship has crossed the Atlantic.

Although the ship's mechanical system leaves something to be desired, IBM says its autonomous systems, including MarineAI's AI captain, have performed well.

However, AIs are not capable of instructing and controlling robots to perform mechanical repairs for any number of potential faults. Nonetheless, Mayflower's autonomous systems have been able to successfully navigate the ocean and report back mechanical issues, which is an incredible feat.

As the VP and CTO of Edge Computing at IBM, Robert High said, "it will be entirely responsible for its own navigation decisions as it progresses, so it has very sophisticated software on it—AIs that we use to recognize the various obstacles and objects in the water, whether that's other ships, boats, debris, land obstacles, or even marine life."

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